Jim Gazzolo column: Southland strikes out marketing tourneys

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, June 1, 2023

Last week the Southland Conference hosted its baseball championship tournament at Joe Miller Ballpark in Lake Charles.

It was the fourth championship event on the campus of McNeese State since March, if you noticed.

Unfortunately for McNeese, not enough people did.

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The crowds were not bad, especially when McNeese teams were in action. However, only the softball team made it to a final. The Cowgirls won the SLC crown which helped boost attendance.

When McNeese teams weren’t playing, the crowds were much smaller, as expected.

Part of this is the size of the Southland itself. It is not one of the power leagues, for sure.

But part of the problem seems to from the lack of knowing the league. That falls on the SLC leadership.

There was little if any local buildup to the tournaments. You could not find any billboards promoting ticket sales or any local ads touting the tournaments.

It was as if the Southland figured word of mouth was the way to go when it came to promoting its games. Maybe it figured it would just leave it up to McNeese to do all the promoting and advertising.

If so, that is a major whiff by the conference.

During the past year, the Southland has done a tremendous job changing its image. Under first-year Commissioner Chris Grant, the league has taken strides to join the rest of college athletics in thinking about the future and new ways of doing things.

There has been a new long, a rebranding and other steps to raise the conference’s profile. But most of that has taken place in relative silence on the national level.

Southland folks may know what is going on but the general public is uninformed.

Word of mouth can only reach a limited number of folks. The Southland just promotes its stars and its teams to the general public.

We needed posters put up around town showing the faces of the league’s best who were coming here to compete.

Most people now look at movie trailers before deciding on what to go see. You can’t ask folks to spend their cash on an unknown product.

Yet that is what the league tried to do. Any promotion was done for the eyes of those who already knew about the SLC.

More, much more, will be needed if these events are to become larger and more interesting to the general public.

If this league really wants to take that next definitive step, it must find a way to better market itself. It just can’t be happy with status quo.

Like the rest of college sports, the SLC is in a battle for survival, trying to cut out its own piece of an ever-shrinking turf.

This is also important forget about individual rivalries and move forward together.

This may be the more significant of deals. It seems this league is caught between old and new, those who want to move ahead and those who are willing to stay behind.

That was the reason why four Texas schools bolted two summers ago and why McNeese almost followed last year. It didn’t want to get left behind.

This is also why it is up to the league to make sure a number of schools don’t leave again.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com